6 myths about WorkChoices

Unlike the federal government, the NSW Nurses’ Association hasn’t got $100 million to spend on TV advertising. But here is our analysis of the assertions made in WorkChoices – the new workplace relations system.

  • It will provide workers with more choice between awards and workplace agreements.

NOT TRUE: The clear goal of the new laws will be to push people on to individual contracts and discourage collective bargaining. The government continues to undermine awards by restricting the types of conditions that can be included in awards and through the abolition of the no-disadvantage test. Even worse, employers will be able to offer workers individual agreements on a take-it-or-leave-it basis and for new employees there may be no choice at all – signing an AWA could be made a condition of employment.

  • It won’t cut award conditions like penalty rates.

NOT TRUE: the trashing of the award safety net will give employers the opportunity to reduce pay and conditions such as overtime, casual loading, meal breaks and annual leave. The government will only maintain five minimum entitlements – everything else can be negotiated away. Federal awards currently have 20.

  • It won’t stop workers from participating in a union.

NOT TRUE: WorkChoices significantly limits unions’ ability to strike and makes it harder for union officials to enter the workplace. It will be illegal to include in agreements trade union training leave, paid union meetings or references that future agreements must be a union collective agreement.

  • It won’t take away the right to industrial action.

NOT TRUE: Industrial action by employees seeking collective agreements will be subject to secret ballots and large fines in some cases and may be outlawed under new ‘essential services’ provisions. This has serious consequences for NSW nurses.

  • It won’t impact on minimum wages.

NOT TRUE: Minimum wages will no longer be set by the independent umpire leading the way for them to be lower in the future. In every single minimum wages case since 1996 the federal government has opposed the ACTU application for a decent pay rise for the low-paid.

  • It will be a simpler system.

NOT TRUE: These changes are not about deregulation, they are about reregulation in favour of the employer. They are highly detailed and complex – one of the reasons it has taken the government so long to reveal them is that a reported six law firms laboured over the wording. Moving millions of workers from state awards to the federal system will require a complicated transitional arrangement that many believe will create instability and uncertainty for employees and employers alike.